Jonathan Kaiman visits Ankang municipality where swarms of highly venomous hornets have killed 41 people in three months
Friday 4 October 2013 10.43 BST
Chen pointed with a shaky hand at the small plot of cabbage, spring onions and corn where his friend, Yu Yihong, had been stung to death by giant hornets.
"When he got to the hospital, there were still two hornets in his trousers," said Chen, a farmer who, like many villagers, declined to give his full name to a foreign journalist. "The hornets' poison was too strong – his liver and kidneys failed, and he couldn't urinate."
Yu, a square-jawed 40-year-old farmer in perfect health, had been harvesting his crops when he stepped on a nest of Vespa mandarinia hornets concealed beneath a pile of dry corn husks. The hornets swarmed around Yu, stinging him through his long-sleeved shirt and trousers. He ran, but the hornets chased him, stinging his arms and legs, his head and neck.
After Yu succumbed to the poison about 50 of his friends and relatives gathered to mourn his passing. Outside the farmer's mountainside home in Yuanba village, they ate preserved eggs, buckwheat noodles and boiled peanuts in silence; one set off a string of fireworks. Yu's wife and two children sat inside, weeping.
V mandarinia is the world's largest hornet, around the size of a human adult's thumb, yellow and black in colour and highly venomous. Its 6mm-long stingers carry a venom potent enough to dissolve human tissue. Victims may die of kidney failure or anaphylactic shock.
Yu's story is a tragic but increasingly common one in north-west China's Shaanxi province, where, over the past three months alone, hornets have killed 41 people and injured a further 1,675. Ankang, a municipality in the province's south, appears to be the centre of the attacks. While hornets infest its mountainous rural areas every year – 36 residents were stung to death between 2002 and 2005 – local people and municipal officials say this year it is tantamount to an epidemic, the worst they have ever seen.
At least some of the deaths were caused by V mandarinia, experts say. The species does not typically attack unless it feels its nest is threatened. But when it does, it can be fierce and fast – the hornets can fly at 25mph and cover 50 miles in a day. They make their homes in tree stumps or underground, making nests extremely difficult to detect.
FULL STORY & VIDEO: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/04/killer-hornets-chinese...